Sprint to LightSquared: You've got 30 days to get FCC approval or we walk

William Amos forwarded me this curious update to the Lightsquared saga, one that looks as though their partners are beginning to look elsewhere for their strategic planning.  On the heels of failing their NTIA tests and renewed opposition to an FCC variance from military, aviation, and commercial GPS users, Sprint gave LightSquared a 30-day extension to their agreement to get FCC approval for a commercial rollout:

Sprint Nextel Corp. said Sunday it gave billionaire Philip Falcone’s LightSquared Inc. wireless venture a 30-day extension to a Dec. 31 deadline to get Federal Communications Commission clearance to operate its network.

Getting FCC clearance is a condition of a 15-year fourth-generation spectrum-and-equipment-sharing accord between the two companies. LightSquared has said the Sprint accord will help it save $13 billion through the end of this decade.

LightSquared has been buffeted by criticism from lawmakers, the Defense Department and device manufacturers who say the company’s airwaves can jam global-positioning-system signals.

Why a 30-day extension?  That’s probably not enough time for the FCC to even consider the petition filed last month by LightSquared that essentially tells everyone using the current GPS technology to replace all of their equipment, let alone address the wrath of the Pentagon and the FAA if they do.   The collapse of LightSquared’s efforts will probably result in lawsuits against the FCC and as many others as LSQ’s lawyers will allow — unless LightSquared’s cash crunch puts the Harbinger subsidiary out of business first.  Sprint is likely playing defense, hoping that a small reprieve will demonstrate good faith when the inevitable occurs.

Besides, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, the FCC no longer has that discretion, at least not legally.  When Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act on New Years Eve, he signed into law a section that specifically and explicitly prohibits the FCC from taking any action that interferes with current GPS services.  In fact, the FCC is now required by Section 913 to “ensure that the signals of Global Positioning System satellites can be received without interruption or interference.”  When Obama signed the NDAA, he attached a lengthy signing statement objecting to several provisions within it — but didn’t include one word of objection to Section 913 or its implications.  (Even if he did, signing statements don’t negate laws; they only provide evidence of intent at the time of signing in case of later court challenges.)

Sprint certainly has to know this, which means that their 30-day extension is just a pro forma act delaying the inevitable, with the likely purpose of distancing itself from liability from what will also inevitably follow.